Whitworth Road, South Norwood, London SE25
A large interwar church marrying Arts and Crafts with Italian Romanesque elements. The quality of the external design, detailing and massing is high, and the basilican interior is an impressive space retaining several furnishings and features of note. The church is locally listed and is a positive feature in the South Norwood Conservation Area.
In 1907 Bishop Amigo acquired a former Congregational chapel in Clifford Road for Catholic use. The chapel, a so-called tin tabernacle, had been in Nonconformist use since 1867. Newly dedicated to St Chad, it opened in December 1907.
In 1920 a Building Fund was opened for a purpose-built church, but it was not until May 7 1932 that Bishop Amigo laid the foundation stone for a large new church in Whitworth Road. The architect was George Drysdale (1881-1949), who worked in the offices of Ernest George and Leonard Stokes before starting his own practice in 1911. The first Mass in the new church was said on February 19, 1933. The Stations of the Cross were installed on February 26, and the church solemnly opened in the presence of the Bishop on March 2. The parish hall was built with voluntary labour in 1949-50. In 2007 the new forward altar was dedicated.
The church is built of thin plum-coloured bricks laid in Flemish bond, with red brick bands and dressings and creased tiles used for some of the arches. The roofs are of Westmorland slates. The church is in a free Italian Romanesque style infused with an Arts and Crafts spirit, and consists of a nave with narrow circulation aisles, western narthex and an apsidal chancel with flanking aisles and chapels. Sacristies are attached at the east end, and there is an integral bell tower on the south side of the church at the junction of the nave and chancel.
The exterior is notable for the quality of its architectural design, detailing and massing. The main elevation is the south elevation, towards Whitworth Road. Here there is an entrance at the west end, with a tall swept copper-clad canopy with metalwork fleurs de lys and stars in the timber soffit. A glazed ceramic representation of Our Lady in a mandorla flanked by cherubs occupies the tympanum. Below this the stone lintel over the door bears the lettering MAGISTER ADESTE ET VOCAT TE (‘The Teacher is here and is calling you’) and has carved crozier heads at the ends. Panelled entrance doors and steps below. The other dominant feature on the south elevation is the bell tower, attached to the east end of the nave. This is square on plan and of four stages, with rounded stone string courses separating the stages, arched openings in the second and fourth stages, and a hipped roof on top. A small rectangular ceramic panel is set into the first stage of the tower, with two angels. Between the entrance and the bell tower the wall of the south aisle is simply of plum brick, with occasional bands of red brick; set into this at low level is a foundation stone. Above this, the round headed windows of the nave clerestory.
The other main entrance is at the west front, in the centre of three arched openings with herringbone brickwork in the tympanum and creased tile surrounds (the outer openings are blind apart from a small window in each). The tympanum over the central doors has a stone panel bearing the Chi-Rho monogram. Above this, a row of six round-headed windows at clerestory level (the outer ones rendered and blind), and a larger blind arch in the gable with a raised brick cross.
At the east end, the junction of the chancel and apse is marked at the upper level by two swept flying buttresses, incorporating what appear to be short chimney stacks. Below this, there is a flat-roofed single-storey (Lady Chapel) appendage to the tower, with windows of almost Anglo-Saxon detail and an inverted tile cresting to the parapet. The sacristies have a pitched roof of Westmorland slate, and wrap around the apsidal east end. The apse itself is plain and windowless, relieved by the horizontal stone string course and red brick banding.
Inside, a small lobby leads into a narthex with an organ/choir gallery above. Above the gallery, the west wall is articulated by four round-headed arches, one of which is obscured by the organ. The nave is a broad high space with an exposed queen strut roof of early Christian character. The nave arcade comprises three broad semicircular arches carried on rectangular piers without capitals or responds. Above each arcade is a small round-headed clerestory window, except in the eastern bay on the south side, where a large opening into the first stage of the bell tower provides a gallery. The narrow circulation aisles are windowless and have plain plastered ceilings. At the east end of the nave, the wide and plain chancel arch is framed by two smaller plain arches giving onto side circulation spaces. The chancel roof is barrel-vaulted, with windows set into the curve on either side, and has an apsidal east wall.
The furnishings include a high altar of white polished marble with gradine bearing six candlesticks and a green marble reredos with segmental top. Flanking this, set into the curvature of the apse, are a polished stone aumbry (north side) and piscina (south side). There is a modern marble forward altar, dedicated in 2007, and an ambo and tapering font of complementary materials and design, which may be of similar date. The altar rails have been removed, but the scar left by their removal can be seen on the tiled lower sanctuary step. Flanking the sanctuary are the Sacred Heart chapel (north) and Lady Chapel (south), with marble altars and good mosaic decoration, particularly in the Lady Chapel. The original Stations of the Cross are located on the walls of the circulation aisles; these are square framed panels with low relief carved figures of Roman character, set on a gold mosaic background. Original doors to the confessionals are in the north aisle. The pews are simple benches. There is no clear glass; the windows are generally leaded with mottled clear glass, with some coloured glass.
Architect: George Drysdale
Original Date: 1932
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed